Saraki, Dogara, others meet to decide on budget
President Muhammadu Buhari
The leadership of the National Assembly held a crucial meeting on Monday night to take a final stance on the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold his assent to the controversial 2016 budget.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, would chair the meeting to be held at his Abuja residence.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yussuff Lasun, and other principal officers of the Senate and the House would attend the meeting.
The budget of N6.06tn had been passed by the National Assembly on March 23.
With just days to April 23, a date the budget would have been with Buhari for 30 days, it was still unclear last night if the President had returned it to the legislature stating reasons why he would not sign it as provided under Section 59 of the 1999 Constitution.
But some legislative officials informed The PUNCH that the aim of the meeting was for the leadership of both chambers to take a position in anticipation that Buhari would return the document with explanatory notes on the “grey areas.”
“The meeting may not necessarily be about overriding the President’s veto. There isn’t a veto per se because Buhari has not said so officially.
“It is to look at the areas where the executive has already complained of distortions in the budget so that both houses will agree on what to do when a formal letter comes from the Presidency,” one of the officials told The PUNCH at 7.55pm.
Findings indicated that the meeting was billed to start around 9pm.
The House in particular, had on Wednesday last week, delegated Dogara to meet with Buhari to discuss with the latter on the grey areas in the budget.
However, the Speaker reportedly met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the absence of Buhari, who was away to China at the time.
The VP was said to have transmitted a “list of items” to Dogara on the areas that the President sought to be included in the budget.
But The PUNCH gathered on Monday that the lawmakers still expected the President to comply with the provisions of Section 59 by formally writing the National Assembly.
“That is the essence of this meeting. It is for both houses to take a stance on what to do, should the President formally return the budget,” another official stated.
The Senate was said to have bought into the initiative of the House to “re-examine” the budget, but senators also shared the position that the constitutional provisions should be followed.
It was learnt that members of the House had toed the line that the controversial Calabar-Lagos rail line should be incorporated into the budget as part of the fence-mending efforts.
The Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, confirmed to The PUNCH last night that a meeting would indeed take place to discuss the budget.
Gbajabiamila did not give details, but merely said, “The leadership of both houses meets tonight (Monday) and a decision will be taken.”
On his part, the Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, told The PUNCH that it was difficult to “speculate” on the outcome of the meeting.
He claimed that the Senate and the House principal officers would go to the meeting with an “open mind” to speak in anticipation of what might be the response from the Presidency.
“We cannot say this is the way to go until Mr. President writes us or does not write us.
“We have to wait to see what he (the President) has to say before a direction can be taken on what exactly to do,” he added.
The PUNCH had reported on Monday that, in the “items” that came from Osinbajo, the executive sought to have “the distortions” in the budget corrected.
“The point made is that the executive wants most of the provisions of the budget retained the way they came from Mr. President. This will still not alter the total budget size of N6.06tn.
“There were projects that did not originally come from the executive, but were introduced into the budget by the Committee on Appropriation at the National Assembly, while those the executive brought were dropped. This issue too has to be corrected,” one official had disclosed to the newspaper.
It was learnt that among the lawmakers, most of the “lopsided” projects injected into the budget by the Committee on Appropriation to the exclusion of other constituencies, would be re-adjusted.
Such projects include the N4bn inserted in the budget for projects in the geopolitical zones of the leadership of the Senate and the House.
It had been programmed that principal officers in the two chambers would benefit N20bn projects apiece in their areas from the budget in line with a tradition kept since 1999.
But, owing to the protests that have trailed the inclusion of such projects this year, they will be re-ordered to free the N40bn.
The PUNCH gathered that the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, in particular, is to forfeit projects worth N4.169bn, which he allocated to his constituency in Kano State. The projects were not in the budget proposed by the executive.
Some of Jibrin’s controversial projects are rehabilitation of Gwarzo Kiru, Kwanar Maiyaki road, N180m; N100m for town hall; construction of roads in Kiru/Bebeji, N150m; solar street lights, N300m; Badaf road construction, N405m; and Bebeji earth dam, N270m.